February 6, 2023

Athletic Training: More Than Tape and Ice

By B&SC Athletics Team

Athletic Training: More Than Tape and Ice

Medical experts credited the quick action of Buffalo Bills athletic trainers with saving safety Damar Hamlin’s life after he suffered a cardiac arrest. The incident shed light on the vital role athletic trainers play in sports.

Arielle Hachtel has been the athletic trainer for the Bryant & Stratton College Wisconsin Bobcats athletic program for two years. While she hasn’t had to utilize her required CPR, AED, and first aid training in real time, Arielle is prepared in case an emergency arises.

“I do make sure all the coaches and I know where the AEDs are at each location where the team plays,” said Arielle. “I even have a portable one in my car at all times, because I travel a lot and you never know what can happen.”

Training isn’t just taping ankles

Before the incident with Hamlin, and even despite it, some people believe athletic trainers just tape ankles, apply ice or bandages, and watch the game. Arielle says it goes way beyond that.
“There was a situation – my athletes actually brought it up to me. Someone went up for a layup and they came down hard; there was a big collision and they saw my reaction. One of them asked me what I was looking at. I said, ‘You guys just think I’m watching the game and watching the ball, but I am watching to see whether your head hits the floor, whether you land too hard, and whether you get right up or not.’ I will never be able to watch a sport, a game, or an event the same way again because I’m not even watching the ball half the time.”

It isn’t just the court or field Arielle is paying attention to.

“You have to watch everything around you – even the stands. You have to be alert because sometimes, not often, things do happen. You have to be ready. There might be somebody in the stands who has a heart attack, and you have to be able to act.”

This is one of the reasons why the educational requirements to become an athletic trainer go beyond reactive responses and immediate treatment of minor injuries.

“In college, we did a lot of hands-on work. We not only followed teams during practices and games in case they got hurt, but we also learned how to treat them, different ways to treat them, and why,” said Arielle.

Arielle says athletic training isn’t for everyone because of the commitment.

“When you get into athletic training, you know it is not a 9-5 job, and you have to always be prepared because sports injuries don’t happen during the traditional workday. If an athlete needs me, I’ll be there for them no matter what time it is.”

Relationships are vital for athletic trainer and athlete success

Being an athletic trainer comes with a high level of responsibility in sometimes very tense situations. It also highlights the value of mutual trust between the athletic trainer and the athlete. Arielle has worked to develop relationships with the athletes, so they feel comfortable with her and know she is there to take care of them. The strong bond they form leads to successful outcomes for the athletes.
“There was a situation involving one of our basketball athletes. He was in a game in preseason out of state, and I was watching the live stream of the game. All of a sudden, I saw him go off the court and he just passed out. I had no idea what was happening at that moment, and it was so hard because although the athletic trainers who were there were great, I wasn’t physically there to help. Just then my phone rang, and it was the coach. The coach said the player had a rapid heart rate and his body was hot, so we decided it was best to send him to see a doctor. He was checked out and nothing seemed obviously wrong. We decided to send him for more tests and have him rest instead of playing the two games that were scheduled in the coming days.”

The player was out for a month while cardiovascular tests were done as a precaution. The tests did not reveal any issues with his heart. He went back to playing while taking steps to keep his heart rate and temperature down. Weeks after this player’s return, Damar Hamlin had a cardiac arrest, and Arielle immediately reflected on what happened with her player.

“My mind went to ‘what if?’ What if I didn’t make him go to the doctor? What if I didn’t push back? What if he didn’t listen? What if he just played anyway? What if he didn’t actually go to the doctor? What if I didn’t make him show me the discharge and clearance notes? I would have had no way of knowing [he’d not actually gone to the doctor]. That stuff goes through athletic trainers’ heads every day.”
This is where Arielle says the relationship between the athletic trainer and the athlete is crucial.

“Building that relationship and trust is, I think, the most important thing about being an athletic trainer, hands down. A lot of times I’m dealing with between 18- and 22-to-23-year-olds. In some of the places these kids come from, there’s no trust. They don’t trust anybody but themselves and that’s it – point blank. That’s why I like going to the practices, at least one practice a week for each of the teams, because the more the athletes know me, the more they trust me and the more they understand how I do things and my education and why I do things the way I do. I stress that a lot. Sometimes I have kids come in and ask for help with homework during the day, and I help them. I do have a couple of athletes who come in and sit at my office desk. They don’t bother anyone. They just do their homework. That’s their safe place, and then they go.”

Shared success is the reward

Arielle works hard and admits that sometimes she does feel burned out, but her athletes inspire her to keep going.

“The best part of my job is seeing them succeed. For example, I have an athlete who has been through so much. He has been plagued with injuries and just had another one this fall. We celebrate even the smallest milestone together to encourage him not to give up.”

Whether it is overcoming an injury or watching an athlete move on to play a sport at a higher level, Arielle says their success is the best part of her job.

“I have athletes that can go Division I. I have athletes that can play Division II. This means they can play three more years and they can be successful students and athletes. They might not be able to continue their athletic career if they didn’t have the resource of an athletic trainer to keep them healthy or get them through injuries.”

You can learn about athletic programs at Bryant & Stratton College here!